by: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is one of the sportiest looking and driving affordable compact crossovers on the market.Mazda made quite a splash when it debuted the all-new 2013 CX-5 last year.

The compact crossover was crisply designed, handled well and got the highest mileage in its class — almost 30 EPA estimated average miles per gallon for both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions. That’s better some compact cars acheived not too long ago.

Just about the only complaint from automative writers was the relative lack of power from the single available engine, an all-new 2.0-liter inline four cylinder with 155 horspower. Accelartion was adequate, especially considering the mileage. But those wanting more power were out of luck.

Well, Mazda heard the griping and has responsed with an optional 2.5-liter engine in the 2014 version of the CX-5. It has 29 more horsepower and the mileage is almost as good as the base 2.0-liter engine — an EPA estimated average 27 for front-wheel-drive version and 26 for those with AWD.

It’s a good thing the change is so significant because there aren’t any others for 2014. Then again, there wasn’t a lot else Mazda needed to fix with such a new and impressive vehicle. The display screen is a little small and the premium stereo is not as good as those found in some competitors, but that’s about all that struck me during a full week of driving a new CX-5 with the 2.5-liter engine.

So how does the bigger engine compare to the smaller one? Unfortunately, I can’t say. Although I tested a 2013 CX-5, it came with front-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual transmission. The 2014 one had AWD and a six-speed automatic, the only transmission available with the bigger engine.

Although I can't compare the 2.0 and 2.5 engines directly, I can say that acceleration with the bigger engine is respectable, especially considering the AWD version is heavier and has more parts to move than the FWD version. My 2013 tester was not exactly fast, but it wasn't a dog off the line, either. Using the manual shift mode increased the responsiveness, although the shifts were less than completely precise.

But the 2014 model definately felt more substantial than the 2013 one. Much of that was because the suspension was firmer, probably a result of the AWD components. Where the 2013 version was a little bouncy, seemed more refined.

Part of that was undoubtedly because the 2013 model was a base version while the new one was a top-of-the-line Grand Touring version. It was loaded with options from heated leather front bucket seats to a sunroof and navigation system with rear view camera. Such amenties are usually lacking in vehciles known for their economy, but Mazda is covering all the bases with its three trim levels — Sport (which is the base one), Touring (a little nicer) and Grand Touring (nicer still).

Despite being only one year old, the CX-5 is already facing new and heavy competition. They include the all-new Ford Escape that debutted last year and the even newer revised Toyota RAV4. The Escape has a greater engine selection and a more refined interior, while the RAV4 taps into Toyota’s large and loyal ownership base. But the CX-5 still has them beat by a couple of miles per gallon. After a week of driving, I recorded just over 25 miles per gallon — impressive economy for any AWD vehicle.

The secret to the high mileage is Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology, which basically means reworking every component possible to improve fuel economy. The company has tinkered with everything from the unibody chasis to the transmissions and engines to squeeze out the most mileage. But Mazda has not forgotten its reputation for building fun products, as captured by the company’s Zoom-Zoom slogan. The CX-5 feels sportier than most affordable compact crossovers, although the Escape nips at its heels when equipped with the larger of its two optional turbocharged engines. The Kia Sportage is also fun to drive, especially when equipped with its optional turbocharged engine, but its mileage is well below the CX-5.

Anyone interested in an affordable compact crossover that gets good mileage should definitely put the 2014 CX-5 on top of their test drive list. Check out both the 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter engines, just to be sure which one meets your needs best. You might be surprised how competitive they both are.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: CX-5.

• Manufacturer: Mazda.

• Class: Compact crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front- and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door SUV.

• Trims: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring.

• Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 (155 hp, 150 lb-ft); 2.5-liter inline 4 (184 hp, 185 lb-ft – as tested).

• Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 26/32/29 (2.0/FWD/auto); 25/31/28 (2.0/AWD/auto); 26/35/29 (2.0/AWD/manual); 25/32/27 (2.5/FWD/auto); 24/30/26 (2.5/AWD/auto).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $21,195 ($31,620 - as tested).


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